head shotI am a 60 year old single woman. I have one brother who lives in another country, and am the sole caregiver for, first both my parents, and now, since mom passed in 2010, my dad. I have been a caregiver for almost 7 years, beginning in 2008.

Besides “caregiver,” what other identities do you have?

Business owner, horse owner, lesbian, daughter, artist wannabe.

Who had the biggest impact on shaping who you are today?

Myself. My parents, truly, but they taught me to examine who I am and decide who I want to be.

What’s a personality trait you have that you really value?

I am emotionally strong and I persevere.

What’s your mantra?

Look up and go. This requires some explaining. For a while I was riding a very skittish horse, and I spent a lot of my saddle time on him looking at the ground (probably thinking about how hard a landing it would be). My trainer kept saying, “Look up and go,” in other words, look at where you want to go and ask the horse to go there. Quit thinking about what is under foot, just focus on the destination and getting there.

Who are you caring for? What is your caregiving story?

I am now caring for my 90 year old dad. My first couple of years I was caring for both mom and dad. Mom had Alzheimer’s, and for several years before I became a caregiver I knew that I would be doing that at some point. I spent that time arranging my business and my life so I could move to Florida to care for them. I made my business portable, I found people to take over the volunteer work I had been doing and trained them to do what I had done. I made practice “runs” back and forth from New Hampshire to Florida, first for short trips, and then increasingly longer, bringing my cat with me (both parents adore cats, and had one of their own, part of this practice was to introduce the cats). Then, dad ended up with some small problem in the hospital, and mom couldn’t function without him, and I made the trip almost non-stop, and stayed. He was fine, but I just stayed on to help. After she passed away, I realized that he needed my help. Dad had polio as a child, and was less and less steady on his feet, along with other issues. He still has all of his mental acuity.

What was your greatest caregiving lesson?

With mom, and Alzheimer’s we learned to “agree, don’t argue.” No matter what outlandish thing she would say it really didn’t do any good to tell her she was wrong, it just upset her and confused her. So, as much as we could, we would agree and chuckle about it later.

What do you wish you were told before you became a caregiver?

There is no end date.

What advice would you give to other caregivers?

Have patience and try to look at everything with humor. Being able to laugh at yourself goes a long way.

What’s your best piece of advice for life in general?

I love the expression “Life is what happens while you are making other plans.” Make your plans, but go with the flow, and if something happens to upset those plans, make new plans.

What’s been the hardest part of caregiving for you?

I have felt like I have given up my personal life. At 60 it is hard to imagine that I will have a long-term relationship, and that makes me sad.

What’s the most rewarding part of caregiving?

Caring for my parents has given me a sense of love and family that I would not have had otherwise.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

Listen to NPR, which is on the clock-radio, and catch up on world news. Check Facebook on my iPhone. Do 50 sit-ups, 30 leg-lifts, then get out of bed and do 20 squats. That’s my “me” time. I may not get any more “me” time until the end of the day.

What’s the last thing you do at night?

Get dad off to bed, and then sit at the computer, either checking Facebook, playing with genealogy, or playing computer games. That’s my other “me” time. Sometimes I have a 1/2 glass of wine, but not too often.

What keeps you up at night?

I used to wake up thinking I had heard my name being called. I would dash out of my room and into my parent’s bedroom to find them (or now him) fast asleep. Then I got the least expensive baby monitor available, and now I sleep SO much better.

What motivates you?

I love to make plans. Plans for my garden, plans to fix up something around the house, plans for travel, plans for retirement. All motivating.

What’s the best tool or strategy you’ve found to help you with caregiving?

I try to engage dad in his own care, and encourage him to do as much for himself as possible.

In ten words or less, what has caregiving taught you?

Patience, love, and not to fear growing old.

What’s your best habit?

Cleaning up after myself as I go along.

What do you do when you have 15 minutes of free time?

Actually, it takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours. I go and ride my horse.

What do you think makes a life well lived?

Having made a difference in someone else’s life.

What question do you hope an interviewer would ask?

I guess something about how other family members don’t want to get involved, just want to be in the will (hmmm, sense a little bitterness there?). I believe this may have driven a wedge between my brother (who lives in Australia) and me.

Freedom Rider can be found online at FreedomRider.com and on Facebook, where she offers all you would need for horseback riding with disabilities, physical challenges and for any situation where safety is an extra concern.

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